State Plantation: Management Success Story Produces No. 1 Buck

After several seasons of only nocturnal trail-cam pics, trailing does last Nov. 14 put this Dougherty County giant in front of two hunters within 30 minutes.

Historically, State Plantation Land and Cattle Company covered well over 2,000 acres of open pine lands in western Dougherty County. Known today merely as State Plantation, the total acreage includes approximately 60 percent of the original land area. Over time, a gradual shift in emphasis toward timber management resulted in many of the larger open areas being converted to pine. For the past 30 years, Robbie Barkley and his family have been directly involved with overseeing management of the plantation’s land and wildlife.

“I helped my dad manage the property for a number of years before eventually taking over the job myself,” Robbie said. “From a wildlife perspective, our management efforts have always been directed toward deer and turkey. In the beginning, our situation was similar to a number of other large acreage land holdings in this area of the state; there was simply too many deer on the property and our buck population was drastically overharvested. After talking with several other local land managers and consulting with whitetail expert, Dr. James Kroll, we initiated an intensive deer management plan.

“As we quickly discovered, this commitment required a great deal of work without yielding any immediate results. However, over time, we gradually began to see an improvement in deer numbers and antlered buck sightings.”

The positive results continued into the 2010 season, when during a December hunt, Robbie’s sister-in-law, Dena, downed a huge whitetail. The buck’s very massive 14-point rack grossed an impressive non-typical score of 173 2/8.

“Being the biggest deer ever recorded from the plantation, Dena’s hunt represented a landmark accomplishment for our efforts over the previous several years,” Robbie said. “Since then, we have continued to maintain our harvest criteria of taking only mature upper age class bucks, along with an adequate number of antlerless deer.

“Trail cameras are also utilized to help monitor the population, and in 2013 they recorded numerous images of a huge record class 11-pointer. However, all the photos were taken at night and the buck was never sighted by anyone. Unfortunately, the following year (2014), the big deer relocated to another nearby landowner’s farm, but once again trail camera photos recorded a nocturnal movement pattern, and the buck was never seen during hunting season.”

In south Georgia, the annual opening of gun season is often accompanied by uncomfortably warm and often humid October weather. Not surprisingly, last fall’s hunters quickly discovered that 2015 would be no exception to that trend.

“We hunted almost entirely in the afternoons during the first few weeks of the season,” Robbie said. “Practically all deer movement was associated with normal feeding patterns. Our rut usually peaks around the first week in December, so it’s not unusual to begin seeing bucks, especially young bucks, trailing after does in mid-November.”

On Saturday afternoon, Nov. 14, Robbie climbed into a box stand overlooking a food plot planted in a mixture of oats, clover, and winter peas. Joining him for the afternoon hunt were two longtime friends, Heath Allegood and David Gilliam, both of Albany, who were hunting stands nearby. By four o’clock the hunters had settled into position at their individual locations. The weather was clear and moderately cool with only a slight breeze present.

“Not long after getting in the stand, I heard a distant shot from the general direction of the other hunters,” Robbie said. “Within minutes, I received a text from David, saying he had shot a really big buck, but all he could find was a scattering of white hair. I told him to sit tight, give the deer some time, and I would come over a little later to help him look for it.”

Several hundred yards from David’s location, Heath was sitting in a box blind along the border of a 3-acre food plot. This particular stand was one of the hunter’s favorites since years earlier, he had watched his son, Jackson, take his first deer at the site.

“I heard David shoot and was a little curious as to what might be going on,” Heath said. “About 30 minutes later I saw a buck walk into the far corner of the plot about 175 yards away and begin feeding. The deer looked big, but he was facing in my direction, and at that distance I wasn’t completely confident in my ability to accurately judge the rack without getting a better view.

“To be honest, I was still frustrated from a hunt the previous year when I shot an 8-pointer that turned out to be a good bit smaller than I thought,” Heath said. “My first priority was to not make that mistake again, and in this situation I wasn’t going to rush myself into taking a shot.”

With his Ruger No. 1, chambered in .300 RCM, in position, the hunter continued to watch the big deer feed ever so slowly toward him. Finally, at approximately 160 yards, the buck quartered to one side, providing Heath a clear view of its rack and a near perfect shooting opportunity.

“I’m sure it was only a few minutes, but it seemed like I had been waiting for an eternity,” Heath said. “At that point, one glimpse of the rack was all I needed to confirm my decision. When I squeezed the trigger, the buck dropped in its tracks.”

Heath briefly remained in the stand a few moments to gather his thoughts and make sure the deer wasn’t going to get back up. With light rapidly fading, he quickly walked about 300 yards to the opposite end of the plot to get his vehicle before driving to where the buck had fallen. On the way he sent Robbie a text.

“After getting Heath’s message saying he had shot a huge buck, I immediately responded by asking how big was the deer,” Robbie said. “However, there was a time lapse of several minutes without any response.”

“I didn’t really comprehend the buck’s true size until I got to where it was lying,” Heath said. “That first up-close view of the huge rack was definitely a surreal experience and certainly a moment I will never forget. I decided the best way to answer Robbie’s question was to text him a photo of the deer.”

“It would be an understatement to say Heath’s photo pretty well blew my mind,” Robbie said. “Normally, I always try to exit a stand quietly without disturbing any nearby deer, but in this case I practically bolted out of the blind. Deer were running in all directions.

“Upon reaching Heath’s location, I saw that David had also arrived on the scene. I immediately walked to where the deer was lying and lifted its head to get a good look at the rack; then I grabbed Heath and hugged him. I know he thought I had lost my mind, but I kept telling him that he just didn’t realize what he had done!

“Without question, Heath’s giant buck was the same deer in our trail camera photos two years earlier. I had no idea the buck had moved back onto our property. Aside from an obvious increase in size, the rack had the same basic shape and exceptionally long tines.”

While continuing to examine the big whitetail, Robbie suddenly pointed to a thin bright red gash across the deer’s underside. Before he had a chance to ask, David quickly spoke up to explain the mark was a result of his earlier shot. He had spotted the buck trailing behind two does and fired when the deer stopped about 140 yards away. For whatever reason, his shot went low, producing only a handful of white hair. Amazingly, the buck then circled out through a thickly wooded drainage before eventually reaching the opening where Heath was located.

“I am well aware of how unpredictable deer and deer hunting can be,” Robbie said. “However, considering the buck’s prior two-year history of never being sighted by a hunter, the sequence of events on this particular afternoon borders on the unbelievable.”

Understandably, news of the buck spread quickly. No one doubted the deer’s record book status; it was simply a matter of how high would it score. That answer was determined after the required drying period when the rack was officially measured. The results of that scoring session include several impressive antler statistics.

The very symmetrical 6×6 typical frame exhibits excellent mass and long main beams of 27 and 26 inches. But tine length is easily the rack’s most outstanding feature, with six tines measuring between 13 and 9 3/8 inches. After grossing a great total of 185 1/8 inches, minor asymmetry deductions, plus three small abnormal points reduce the buck’s final typical score to 175 5/8. Adding the three abnormal points to the total, the buck grew an incredible 190 6/8 inches of antler.

In addition to qualifying for entry into the Boone & Crockett Club’s records, the deer ranks as the top typical whitetail of Georgia’s 2015-16 season. In April, this ranking was recognized at the Georgia Outdoor Writers Association annual conference, where the buck was awarded 1st Place honors in its category of the Georgia Big Deer Contest.

Within Dougherty County, the giant deer stands as the biggest whitetail ever recorded, according to GON’s official County-by-County records. No small accomplishment considering the record-class buck it replaced stood as the county record for 46 years. That previous Dougherty County record, taken in 1969 on Tallassee Plantation by J.P. Flournoy, was a typical that netted 173 1/8.

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